"Vannaty of vannaties, saith the Preacher, vannaty of vannaties; all is vannaty." (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
+2021.03.14. this page is under construction, but feel free to read what I (BMcC) think of Robert Venturi and anybody who does not damn that man. Robert Venturi should never have been allowed to do architectural work or teaching. He liked decorating sheds, so he should have grown up to do something useful, like painting Mail Pouch tobacco ads on independent farmers' barns. Let him have a good chaw! And then let's spit him out into the Gawanas Canal.
Doesn't Mr. Venturi's running his big mouth off about modernism being boring and so forth in C&CinA really have its resolution right under his foppish nose, in Adolf Loos's Tzara House? If there ever anybody who was anti-formalist reduce everything to a Prussian militarist rectangular box lifeless social surround, wasn't it Tristan Tzara? Can Venturi's cutsie warped dimension windows compare with a Tristan Tzara poem for being anti-bourgeois stuffiness? Is Vanna House more complex and contradictory, except in the sense of being more stupid, than Adolf Loos's Tzara House which Loos made for the man himself, Tristan Tzara? Why isn't C&CinA a celebration and exegesis of Tzara House? Is it just that the Venturi fop had to come up with something to keep himself amused and he wasn't into studying the history and philosophy of architecture?
I (BMcC) am beginning to hypothesize that my issues with Mannerism may be similar to what I experienced with what I call The Great GOTO War in computer programming around 1980: Something intellectually reasonable was made threateningly repulsive by being shoved down my throat by self-righteous prigs whose ultimate effect and probable aim was not to fix a problem in their disciplinary field but to crush the human spirit of the people they had power over.
Perhaps Venturi only understands mannerism for the mob, but since he had or was angling for an elite job, he asserted that regimen for the elite, instead of himself studying the subject and not running his mouth off. This would make sense since my guess is that some modernist architect must once have not kowtowed to him and he bears a grudge and so would throw the kitchen sink at all modernists (the Paul Rudolph thing), instead of swallowing his self-pride and accepting that that he will never be as good as them. Bobby, boy, it's OK to be just medocre; you'll still get a decent wage for your hack labor.
Now, my reader! Surely you must ask what's my angle? My grudge is that people inferior to me have held me back from living a life I could have lived without them hurting me, and I've still not got what I deserve and it's getting very late for me, so I have little hope of remediating the situation. If I was younger and I could have a life appropriate to myself, I would not gie them a second thought except if they kept bugging me, and then I'd just get them off my back again so I could keep on my way forward in life. Ticks and fleas carry serious diseases. and, exceptfor entomologists, they are not appealing even to look at.
I think Robert Venturi deserves as much condemnation as we can pile on him of his own words and deeds. It have been 40 years since I read his "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" and "Learning from Las Vegas." But maybe I can look back on the former and I've entirely forgotten the latter, without being turned into a pillar of salt.
The thing seems to be "Mannerism", or at least that's part of it. I'm not sure if Mannerism is good or bad or, if bad, how bad, or more interestingly, why it is. I am currently studying that. Did Robert Venturi read Anrold Hauser's massive tome on this subject? But I propose there is nothing that can justify anybody humiliating innocent persons, including for an an architect designing housing for the elderly to laugh at them behind their backs.
Humiliating prigs on the other hand, including humiliating Robert, I think is OK. I don't think there is much Mannerist art that goes out of its way to mock old people, is there? If Mr. Venturi thought that old people watching a lot of television was bad -- and I, for one , do think it is bad --, then shouldn't he have been doing something to improve their lives, not erecting a gold anodized antenna on top of an old age home as a symbol celebrating it? How about, instead, for instance, a lovely common room on the top of the building where the residents could gather in good companionship with each other, maybe even with friendly cats and dogs, because we know that old people like loving domestic animals as well as or maybe more than watching television?
If Mr. Venturi was fascinated by old people placing plastic flowers in the windows of their apartments, how about if he had added a lovely flower nursery to his building, where the residents could help grow living flowers to place in their window sills, instead?
Was the man so cynical that he figured that if old people were doing things that were not entirely up to Harvard Gund Hall standards, that he should build housing for them that would be metaphoirically like pouring gasoline on a fire without telling the people in the building that there was a fire in the first place? Or was his goal to put a gold anodized antenna on the top of Gund Hall as a symbol for postmodernist architecture students who like to design gold anodized antennas and other cynical symbols of the degraded cultural world they apparently like to live in because they'd really would like to be gambling in Las Vegas instead of studying fine arts in Cambridge Massachusetts? Administration pimps and faculty prostitutes and student clients? Let they drive Ford Pintos!
Item: Let's say Mr. Venturi thought Miesian architecture was mendacious in claiming purity of form and function. I myself have for now several decades thought that a perfect joint may not be possible, at least in Western architecture, as opposed to traditional Japanese hand-crafted wood construction. Mr. Venturi could have laid out specific limits to perfection in the design of, say, steel beam joints in modernist office buildings. He could then have posed the question: How to most honestly and lucidly express the limitations of perfection in joint finishing? This wuld have been a finely detailed articulation, becausethe Devil would have been in the details. Mies and other modernists have it all figured out at the macro level, don't they? But Mr. Venturi did not do this. He clowned around with making the windows in GUILD HOUSE look like regular houising project windows but jsut with slightly "off" dimensions, and erecting agolden calf -- I meant: gold anodized antenna as a symbol for the elderly who watch so much television, on top of GUILD HOUSE. He was just jerking off on applying lipstick to a pig, not giving the sow or hog a good bath. That's just gratuitous obfuctation of a lifeworld which already has melanomas and renal failures. Why make things worse than they have to be, Mr. Venturi? Just answer the goddamned question in straightforward words, or say you are incompetent to do so.
Let's get some sociologists to inventory the houses where all the postmodernists live and see how many of them qualify as decoratesd sheds? Maybe a lot of them do: MacMansions? Near where I live is a house that is no Palladio villa: it's just a pretty good example of what Andreas Palladio might have built for the owners of The Readers Digest's relatives across the street from the old Digest HQ. It's not Mario Botta acthitecture, but it's not Levittown on steroids, either. I toured the houes when it was for sale and they had an open house, and, yes, the real estate agent probaly thought Iwas some kind of freak, and I didn't get to see the bedrooms and the bathrooms, but I got to see enough of the place to know that it was pretty decent as far as 20th century reverse atavistic architecture goes, i.e., houses that look like they are trying to look like advanced technology has not ye been invented except for the electric appliances. I could have lived quite nicely in that house, only wondering what might be behind Japanese looking fencing by the road a cuple miles away, like was that fencing hiding a house in the spirit of contemporary Japanese architecture informed by traditional. But aht hous is as hidden as Heien princesses hiding behind shoji screens seeking to be seduced by men playing the koto and speaking gracious poems to the, To borrow from the famous words Joseph Welsh said to Joseph R. McCarthy: Really, Mr. Venturi, have you no shame?